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DFG supported projects

Legal reasoning 1

Reasoning with exceptions is not only important in everyday reasoning, but also in legal reasoning. Which reasons are considered important enough in order to decide to not punish somebody who has committed an illegal act? Are there differences between laypeople and experts? To what extent does reasoning with exceptions and counterexamples in legal reasoning differ from everyday reasoning? 

Legal rules are defeasible: previously drawn conclusions may be withdrawn in light of new evidence. For instance, given the conditional “If a person kills another human, then the person should be punished for manslaughter” and the fact “A person kills another human”, it is rational to conclude that the offender should be punished for manslaughter. However, in light of exculpatory circumstances (e.g., self-defense) this conclusion has to be withdrawn and the offender not punished. Experts learn to do this during their legal studies. But how do laypeople weight exculpatory circumstances? In this project we investigate how prior knowledge, emotions, and phrasing affect legal reasoning.

 


 

Contact: Dr. L. Estefania Gazzo Castaneda, Benjamin Sklarek, Prof. Dr. Markus Knauff

Project number: KN 465/10-1

Legal reasoning 2

Basic rights are essential for our societies. All of them are equally important and have to be protected. However, there are situations in which basic rights are in conflict. For instance, what happens if a journalist takes pictures of a celebrity? The celebrity has the right to privacy and the journalist the right to freedom of press. Which basic right should be protected in this specific case? What can make such a decision rational?


According to penal code, offenders should not be punished in light of exculpatory circumstances. However, legal experts and laypeople seem to respond differently to exculpatory circumstances: while experts weight them according to penal code, laypeople weight them according to how morally outraging the offence is. But how do laypeople decide between conflicting basic rights? In this project we investigate how legal experts and laypeople weight conflicting basic rights. We compare experts’ and laypeoples’ decisions with legal theoretical constructs such as the weight formula (Alexy, 2003) and examine the rationality of such verdicts. In addition, we also investigate how probabilities and the believability of offences and circumstances affect legal reasoning and people’s legal decisions.

 


 

Contact: Benjamin Sklarek, Dr. L. Estefania Gazzo Castaneda, Prof. Dr. Markus Knauff

Project number: KN 465/10-2

Cognitive, cortical and computational correlates of belief revision in spatial reasoning

Humans and artificial agents frequently must change their existing beliefs about the way how objects are arranged in space, in order to take into account a new piece of spatial information. So, how do humans revise their beliefs if a new piece of spatial information is inconsistent with earlier assumptions? When do they hold on to a belief and when do they change their mind?


What are the neural correlates of belief revision in human spatial reasoning? We answer these questions by combining experimental methods from cognitive psychology, functional brain imaging studies, and computational investigations. In the psychological experiments, human subjects are confronted with spatial reasoning problems in which an incontrovertible fact falsifies an earlier model. We explore how the individuals recreate consistency and which piece of information they are inclined to retract. The brain imaging studies determine what happens in the brain during the revision of beliefs in spatial reasoning. The computational investigations will result in a detailed algorithmic reconstruction of the information processing during belief revision in spatial reasoning.



Contact: M.Sc. Andreas Reis, Prof. Dr. Markus Knauff

Projektnummer 465/6-1 & 465/6-2